Planet Earth is in for a very close brush with a fast asteroid later today, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have announced. Hurtling through space at a break-neck speed of more than 30,100 mph, the space rock will reach Earth's vicinity in the late hours of the afternoon and safely zoom past our planet's surface, passing almost as close as the moon.
Today's celestial visitor is not a particularly hefty one. Data from NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) places the space rock within a size estimate of between 21 feet and 46 feet in diameter. At the upper end of that size estimate, the asteroid is exactly 10 times smaller than the swift 460-foot space rock that shot past Earth two weeks ago at 48,800 mph. In addition, it doesn't hold a candle to the massive 3,250-foot asteroid that swung by Earth not two days ago, as previously covered by The Inquisitr.
According to a report released yesterday by the JPL, this new celestial visitor is known as 2019 UD7 and was only recently discovered. The space rock was first picked up by NASA asteroid trackers on October 25 -- coincidentally, the same day as the giant asteroid flyby -- and was classified as a near-Earth object (NEO), specifically an Apollo-type asteroid.
As NASA explains, NEOs are celestial objects such as comets or asteroids that orbit somewhere between approximately 91 million and 121 million miles from the sun. This means that in their journey around the sun, NEOs can venture as far as about 30 million miles of Earth's orbit and as close to the planet's surface as a few times the distance to the moon – or even closer.
Meanwhile, Apollo asteroids are NEOs that circle the sun on an orbital path similar to that of asteroid 1862 Apollo. This means that they can not only approach Earth, but also occasionally cross the planet's orbit. As such, asteroids of this class are labeled as "Earth-crossing."
The near-Earth asteroid will swoop in for its close approach at 6:28 p.m. ET. As it barrels past our planet, the space rock will creep in as close as 446,400 miles from Earth. To put that into perspective, that's nearly 1.88 times the distance between Earth and the moon.
While the thought of a close brush with an asteroid can certainly be daunting, particularly one that comes so close to the planet's surface, NASA assures that there's no reason to panic. The asteroid poses no risk of hitting Earth and will harmlessly pass by us as it flies through the inner solar system.
"Scientists determine the orbit of an asteroid by comparing measurements of its position as it moves across the sky to the predictions of a computer model of its orbit around the sun," explains the space agency.
"The more observations that are used and the longer the period over which those observations are made, the more accurate the calculated orbit and the predictions that can be made from it."In the case of asteroid 2019 UD7, NASA used 28 observations gathered over the course of one day to determine its orbit and plot its trajectory through the inner solar system.
Interestingly enough, today's flyby of Earth will be the closest that asteroid 2019 UD7 has ever gotten to our planet -- and the closest it ever hopes to get for the foreseeable future. The last time the space rock visited Earth was in 2016, when it only managed to come within 30.2 million miles of our planet. Before that, the asteroid swung by Earth in 1976, buzzing the planet from 4.3 million miles away. Over the next century, the rock will pass by Earth three more times, only approaching as close as 16.8 million miles in 2063 -- the date of its next flyby.